It’s crunch time for shaping up this year’s anthology.
I’m not at the fingernail-biting stage yet. I know we’ll pull it together my mid-August at the absolute latest. We want our book to be top-notch even if it means tacking on another couple of weeks. Truth is, we felt so good about Serving Up Memory’s quality that we’re feeling anxious, downright afraid, lest we might fall short this go-round.
I’ve submitted three pieces, and the third is still somewhere in the writing/critiquing/revising stage. I trust the members of my group emphatically and am earnestly trying to follow just every suggestion they’ve offered. We have an unwritten guideline that if two or three people bring something up, the writer needs to take a look at it and consider changing something.
That’s where I am right now, the second look and some revision. The book’s theme centers on transitions and passages, and we’ve toyed around with grouping stories, poems, photographs, and recipes with seasons of the year. Changes can be just about anything, and so far we have quite a variety.
One of my pieces tells of moving out of one home into another. I wanted the reader to see my farewell walk through the house and feel my bittersweet emotions as I paused at various spots and recalled people and events. Sounds easy enough, right?
But then I added a few paragraphs about one of my brothers coming to help me with the heavy stuff, and right in the middle of that information, I inserted a scene and some dialogue from the morning I’d first talked to my son about moving into a new house. If that wasn’t complicated enough, I decided to throw in a memory of a Thanksgiving when one of my brothers invited a Korean couple, their baby’s back hair standing up in spikes all over his precious head.
Wait! “I’m confused,” said someone in the writing group. “Here you and your brother are eating at the Huddle House, and in the next paragraph, you and your son are looking at the “new” house and considering its potential.” Someone was puzzled about there being two Thanksgivings (years apart), and after a couple of people pointed out a few time issues, I soon realized that I needed to work on flashbacks.
Home from the meeting, I didn’t waste any time looking up information in Writing Fiction by Janet Burroway, a book that came highly recommended and that I’m enjoying immensely. I’m learning so much from this book that it’s a bit daunting to realize how much I don’t know.
Here are a couple of things I learned about using flashbacks that are guaranteed to prevent the reader from saying, “Huh?” They’re straight from Burroway (p. 214).
- “If you are writing in the past tense, begin the flashback in the past perfect (she had driven; he had worked) and use the construction “had & (verb)” two or three times more. Then switch to the simple past (he raced; she crept); the reader will be with you.
- “If you are writing in the present tense, you may want to keep the whole flashback in the past tense.
- “When the flashback ends be clear that you are catching up to the present again. Repeat an action or image that the reader will remember belongs to the basic time period of the story. Often simply beginning the paragraph with “Now…” will accomplish the reorientation.
- “Avoid blatant transitions such as “Henry thought back to the time.” Assume the reader’s intelligence and ability to follow a leap back.”
I’ve reworked “Moving On,” and I hope the group now understands the transitions from past to present and back again. I can’t believe I’ve been so ignorant about how to write flashbacks, and I’m glad there are good teachers everywhere.
What’s something you’ve learned about writing from another writer, a teacher, a book, a critique group member, or from some other source?